Tuscaloosa Children’s Theater Returns to Holiday Themed “Elf” Musical

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Like equally ironic but ultimately sweet films such as 1983’s “A Christmas Story”, 2003’s “Elf” almost instantly became a beloved holiday classic.

Starring former “Saturday Night Live” goofball Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who as a baby slipped into Santa’s bag and was adopted by citizens of the North Pole, “Elf “grossed $ 220 million against a budget of $ 33 million, winning critical praise as well as public love.

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Its success inspired “Elf The Musical”, which took place on Broadway for Christmas 2010-2011 and 2012-2013, then moved to London’s West End for 2015-2016 and toured annually from 2012 to 2017. But until this weekend, the musical was not seen in Tuscaloosa.

With a book adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, the “junior” version – a series of Broadway-approved adaptations for young artists – will be performed by the Tuscaloosa Children’s Theater. , at the Bama Theater, 600 Greensboro Ave.

Olivia Molina dances with the Tuscaloosa Children's Theater during Elf Jr.'s rehearsal at the Bama Theater on Monday, November 29, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr]

The musical made a few changes from the movie – it’s narrated by Santa Claus (Kai Miller), rather than Papa Elf (played by Ed Asner in the movie) who doesn’t appear in the musical. It is rumored that this happened three years ago, instead of 30, so a younger actor can play the role of Buddy.

In place of Elven Overseer Ming Ming (played in Peter Billingsley’s movie, better known as Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”), they added elves named Charlie (Katelyn Channell) and Shawanda (Maggie Delbridge). The disbelief in Santa Claus by Buddy’s family in New York City has grown into a bigger plot.

One guideline that remains the same: Buddy stands out, literally, because he’s tall even for a human. Ferrell’s height – 6 feet, 3 inches – was increased by using real children as young elves, and forcing perspective and other effects so that the comedian seemed to dominate other adults. For the production of the TCT, Drew Baker sank the 6 foot, 5 inch Thomas Elliot Ferry.

“When he takes the stage, he’s Buddy,” said Baker, TCT’s artistic coordinator since 2009, who conducts “Elf the Musical Junior”.

Drew Baker, director of the Tuscaloosa Children's Theater, makes sure the stage is set up correctly during Elf Jr.'s rehearsal at the Bama Theater on Monday, November 29, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr]

But Baker couldn’t talk too much about the differences, as she hasn’t seen the original film.

“I don’t watch movies,” she said, “you know, not before,” either directing or acting. Baker is a longtime Tuscaloosa performer and director, having performed for days at Tuscaloosa High School, playing the Queen in “Rumplestiltskin” and Becky Thatcher in “Tom Sawyer”, through to more recent Bravery performances for the theater. Tuscaloosa, from the heartbreaking lead in Pulitzer’s winning “Wit” to the old crank titled “Driving Miss Daisy”.

“I never watched ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and I never watched ‘Wit’,” she said, fearing to emulate such famous performances by Jessica Tandy and Emma Thompson, and not to find your own creative mind. “But I know Will Ferrell was tall.”

TCT’s production, which runs Friday through Sunday, also features Eli Sims as Walter, the New York-based biological father Buddy is hunting down; Addie Arnold as Jovie, Buddy’s love interest; Clara Parker as Emily, Walter’s wife; Brady Taylor as Michael’s son Emily and Walter; Brogan Lucky-Lynn as the fake Santa Claus; with Railey Sullivan; Chloé Canterbury; Sophie Messina, Kristina Bradley; Mikalah Vinson; Harper branch; Ben Richey; Posey McWaters; Kennedy Before; Mekhi Blackmon; Nora Bowles; Clara Carter; Braylon McDonald; Isabelle Nodin; Levi Bagwell; Greer Bryant; Emme Channell; Lily Delbridge; Anne Robin Fitzhugh; Charley’s Flowers; Riley Glenn; Mae Humber; Katherine Jernigan; Katelyn Johns; Olivia Molina; Jackson Reeves; Abigail Salter; Mary Coleman Smelley; Amélie Carter; Mollena Doxey; Channing Gonnering; Mary Neal Hollowell; Josie Imbody; Cadence Miller; Jillian Mullenix; Merritt O’Neal; Ashden Petty; Mary Emma Robbins; Kaylee Strachan; Ashlynn Tolbert and Emry Ward

“We have 51 kids in total, and they support each other so much,” Baker said. “They’re still happy in there.… I think, just like the audience, they’re so happy to be back.”

Cast members from the Tuscaloosa Children's Theater perform during Elf Jr.'s rehearsal at the Bama Theater on Monday, November 29, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr]

Like most countries around the world, TCT and its young performers have hosted smaller Zoom and Online performances during the pandemic, but this will be the group’s first major production since March 2020. Security measures are still in place, at both at the Bama Theater – which remains has cut 50 percent of its seats – and in rehearsals. Everyone remains hidden behind the scenes.

During Tuesday night’s dress rehearsal, the actors were instructed to place their masks in a long piece of fabric with slits on their names just before going on stage, then come back and catch them up to wear them again. off the stage.

These differences aside, “Elf the Musical Junior” continues TCT’s long tradition of developing young artists. Ferry has been part of the group since kindergarten; Assistant director Autumn Fuller started her acting career with TCT, then grew up at the Tuscaloosa Theater and the University of Alabama Theater. Fuller now teaches at Tuscaloosa County High and will lead for the company next spring.

“Our mission statement is to educate and expose our children to all aspects of theater,” said Baker.

Other TST children who are no longer children include Colton Crowe. the stage manager, and Jameson Sanford, the stage designer. The musical director is Merry Livingston; choreographer Ashlyn Lambert; sound and light designer David Jones; costume designer Tiffany Yeager; head of accessories Cyndi Wilson; and Technical Director Will Flowers.

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“We’ve been away from Bama for over two years, due to COVID,” Baker said. “It’s just fabulous to put yourself into something like that. It engages you and gives your life a little more meaning.”

Since many schools in the area do not currently make field trips, TCT will not play its regular school shows, although it will present one for homeschool students at 10 a.m. Friday. Regular performances, open to the public, will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, all in Bama. There is also a paid preview, for the final dress rehearsal, at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Tickets cost $ 20 for premium seats, in the first 10 rows, center aisle; $ 15 for general admission; and $ 10 for students and seniors, each with a $ 1 setup fee. The two shows on Saturday are half price.

Drew Baker, director of the Tuscaloosa Children's Theater, chats with her cast during Elf Jr.'s rehearsal at the Bama Theater on Monday, November 29, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr]

Ticket sales have been swift, Baker said, likely because, like the kids, customers are ready to go back to something close to normal. Because of this, and the Bama’s 50 percent capacity, early purchases are encouraged.

For more information, see www.tuscaloosachildrenstheater.net.

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